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Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest

03.04.16

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Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest

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  • Hidden Lake Lookout with sunrise over Sahale Mountain.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Hidden Lake, with plenty of good skiing all around.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Fun pillows can be found on the bottom third of Lake Susan Jane Bowl.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Skiing Lake Susan Jane Bowl.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • The west slopes of Edith Creek Basin are low angle, making them a great option for beginners and when the avalanche danger is questionable.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Alpenglow on the east side of Edith Creek Basin.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Views from Mt St Helens Worm Flows Backcountry Ski- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Multiple skin tracks lead up the Worm Flows.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Fine drop-in spot on Mt Hood's West Crater Rim.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Gendarme formations rise off Mount Hood's summit ridge.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Looking for a drop in on the Newton Clark Moraine.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • The trail to Newton Clark Moraine follows Clark Creek for about a half-mile.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • North aspects along Todd Lake Ridge hold cold snow well after a storm- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Skin track through a stand of old-growth hemlock in the Todd Lake Backcountry.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • 7,000-foot descent to the trailhead, skiing the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge on Mt Shasta.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Hotlum-Wintun Ridge descent.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Mt Diller's east ridge.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Mount Diller's southwest chute.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Lassen's northeast face at sunrise. The north ridge is on the right.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Fun turns off Lassen Peak's North Ridge.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Castle Peak's south couloir.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Castle Peak's south face.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Dropping into the steep upper section of Powderhouse's east bowl.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Contributor Reed Youngbar sending a pillow drop in the east bowl of Powderhouse Peak.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Eyeing the prize: Winter Alta's north bowl.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Fresh tracks on Winter Alta.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • The views from Jake's summit never get old.- Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
  • Despite dry land at lake level, Jake's upper half is often holding snow. - Backcountry Skiing the Pacific Crest
Article
Team

Millennia of volcanic and glacial forces acting on the West Coast have shaped a mountainous and rugged landscape. These forces have uplifted, eroded and carved a string of nearly interconnected mountain ranges that together form an elevated backbone known as the Pacific Crest. Lying between 100 and 150 miles inland the Pacific Crest is oriented north to south, connecting the serrated ridgelines of the North Cascades with the active volcanoes of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. South of Lassen, the granite of the High Sierra rises for another 250 miles stretching southward to southern California. The mountains comprising the Pacific Crest form the first real impediment to winter storms steam rolling off the Pacific, catching and causing them to unload their moisture as snow. 

Amidst this high elevation terrain is a maritime-snowpack-filled playground ripe for backcountry ski/snowboard exploration with a season that regularly runs deep into spring. While recent drought years have seen snow lines creep to higher elevations, this winter has brought a return of a healthy snowpack making for prime conditions in many areas.

The mountain ranges comprising the Pacific Crest offer the backcountry skier a lifetime of discovery. Here are some of our favorite touring zones, broken down by the crest's primary mountain regions:   

Washington Cascades

Dropping into the North Cascades. Photo by Benjamin Krause.

Oregon Cascades

Spring skiing in the Central Oregon Cascades. Photo by Aron Bosworth.

California Cascades

Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park. Photo by Aron Bosworth.

Sierra Nevada

Finding wintery goods in the Tahoe backcountry. Photo by Reed Youngbar.

For more backcountry recommendations see our posts on backcountry skiing in Washington, Oregon, and California

While winter backcountry adventures can be a fun and intriguing way to explore the wilderness, they can also quickly become dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant and life-threatening risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities, each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions (including knowing when not to go), and be prepared/equipped for backcountry navigation and to employ avalanche training and tools. Expert backcountry guides are also available to help you get oriented and travel safely. There is an etiquette to backcountry travel that helps keep you and others safe. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more. Experience, knowledge and informed and safe decision making are the means to a long-lasting and healthy relationship with the winter backcountry.

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